Like its older sibling Baccano, Durarara!! (“Drrr”) is a mayhem of a story featuring a vast ensemble cast of varied and interesting characters. Ikebukuro, the stage of this story, is a lively and frantic district of Tokyo and the crossroad on which our characters will intersect. A prominent theme of the story is an increasingly familiar one in this era of information and technology, identity. In some way, the majority of the characters we encounter ponder and doubt why and what they are. Normative thinking, prejudice, and online personas are at the core of contemporary exploration of the subject that often hits home in more ways than one.
From shy high school students to mystical headless Irish faeries, Drrr has no shortage of interesting and diverse characters that, as the story progresses, we learn to know and understand beyond our initial assumptions; you can’t judge a book by its cover after all. Whether in fiction or in real life, it is undeniable that first impressions are coloured by certain assumptions, these being themselves the product of intricate societal and cultural development. As a result of this most of us tend to expect certain individuals or groups to behave in a specific range of ways. Drrr is a critique of this mode of thinking, and to make its point it pushes its characterization to the extreme of the behavioural spectrum.
As the story progresses Narita slowly unveils the past and thoughts of each of these characters and the struggle they face with coming to terms with who they are and who they would like to be. Mikado, a shy and caring boy, is plagued by his name; we are reminded often that Ryuugamine Mikado is a name that could have been fit for the protagonist of an epic, as such others often make assumptions of Mikado on the sole basis of his name. Yet, his choice of username in the online chatroom is as plain as it comes, going by the pseudo “TanakaTarou”, a typically generic name. Names are an important part of one’s identity and are part of how others perceive us.
Mikado is a character that struggles with his identity, he feels bogged down by his name and by circumstances as a sheltered country boy; he yearns for adventure and human bonds made on his terms. That is why it is online, through the Dollars and the online chatroom that he can express himself the best and form an identity that is truly his own, unencumbered by others’ judgment.
In contrast, Kadota Kyouhei hates being referred to, even as a familiarity, by the nickname “Dota-Chin”. He is a character, that unlike Mikado, is comfortable with who he is and what he believes in. He is a more mature and grounded voice amidst the hectic happenings of Ikebukuro. Similarly, Yumasaki and Karisawa might come off as unhinged otakus with a penchant for fictionalizing the world around them; that they are, but they also prove to have a tighter grasp of the fantastic and real, having chosen to ravel in fictions. They are hence also very much comfortable with their identities.
Kida Masaomi and Sonohara Anri, for their part, are both characters that are defined by the weight of their pasts. Kida refuses to acknowledge and learn from his history as the leader of the ‘Yellow Scarves’, instead choosing to wrap himself in a veil of joviality. While Anri shuts out people around her due to the traumatic experience of the death of her parents and her inheritance of the cursed blade Saika. In many ways Anri’s Saika is a metaphor for her self; she blames herself for her parent’s death and thus believes she will hurt others and equally she loathes her dependence on others, thinking of herself as a parasite to them, much in the same way as Saika operates.
Neither of them is what they appear to be at a glance, they hide their true selves from others but also themselves. It is only through interactions with others that they learn to accept themselves and others. Celty’s friendship is instrumental to Anri becoming more at ease with her status as Saika’s host; and Saki’s forgiveness is what allows Kida to come to terms with his past. Often, it seems that the best way to understand oneself is through the perspective of another, thus contravening the stance that characterization from others is often beside the point or outright wrong.
That is unfortunately not always the case, as Drrr is filled with characters that are sorely misunderstood when they are first introduced. Simon for instance leaves Mikado perplex when he first met him. Not only is Simon a man of colour but he also happens to be Russian, to tower above two metres, and to speak in broken Japanese. He is by all accounts a bizarre view in Ikebukuro, and would probably be so anywhere, yet Simon is revealed to be a very gentle and nuanced character.
Celty Sturluson is in a similar predicament, as the legendary headless rider of Ikebukuro she attracts a lot of attention. One would not be faulted for thinking of her as an intimidating and badass character, as such it is no wonder that she is characterized as such on the internet. However, Celty subverts the viewers’ and characters’ expectations when she is revealed to be more ‘normal’ in her behaviour. She frequently worries about normal things such as her job, her cooking, and her relationship with others; she feels fear, anger, and joy like anyone else. The assumptions made based on her appearance are thoroughly disconnected from the real being, this is not unlike what happens in real life. Celty suffers from prejudice due to her physical appearance.
Similarly, Heiwajima Shizuo too suffers from bias due to his outward disposition. Unlike Celty, however, this is due to his character. Shizuo is a paradox, he is short-tempered and prone to violence and yet claims to genuinely dislike violence. He is an allegory for the duality that exists between the inherent traits that define a person at birth and those values and morals that we develop with experience. He is cursed by short-temper and otherwordly strength, but he strives to be a better person and not to rely on that strength alone.
Ultimately, identity is a nexus, it is formed from the many layers that interlace to form a person. More often that not there is more to people than they appear to be as the complexities of the human mind are not so easily defined. Identities may be molded by outside forces but in the end Drrr reminds us that what defines us is a matter of choice.